- Topobiographical Inquiry: Lived Spaces, Place-Based Experiences, and Ecologies
Armed and violent conflicts are destructive, whether they generate oppression, occupation, eradication, or other negative outcomes. Although human suffering and loss of life remain at the forefront of people’s opposition to war, and for good reason, the damage to environments and ecologies also creates devastating effects. It is perhaps easy to view war as a human problem, but war greatly affects other interdependent living organisms and nonliving elements. Armies, for example, destroy food supplies by scorching farmland and livestock; they spread disease, oftentimes purposely; they contaminate water supplies; they annihilate large forests for energy and fuel; and they consume enormous amounts of energy and petrol. As a result of many of these practices, they create extremely high levels of carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming.
Although war remains a constant course of action throughout human history, advances in technology exacerbate the collateral damage of armed conflicts. Modern and contemporary war—conflicts since the Industrial Revolution—parallel the period of the Anthropocene, a time in history from the late eighteenth century to the present when humans have significantly altered the environmental balance of the Earth.1 While this backdrop of war remains central to the modern [End Page 129] era, or modernity, this article will explore some of the environmental, structural, and social effects of war. Despite providing this opening context, examining war itself is less of the objective in the following pages. Instead, I will focus on two primary questions of inquiry related to the effects of war: How might environmental consequences of war be captured and presented to audiences? In what ways might the secondary and even tertiary impacts of armed conflict be told as experiential stories rooted in specific places?
As a case study, I will examine Ernie O’Malley’s celebrated memoir On Another Man’s Wound (1936), which loosely spans 1904 through 1921, but largely focuses on Ireland’s War of Independence from 1919 to 1921.2 However, the specters of war within modernity appear merely as a backdrop, a context in which we could instead convey stories about relationships, observations, and reflections within certain landscapes during periods of conflict. O’Malley’s memoir also functions, for instance, as an educative guide in social and cultural history for readers to understand specific place-based and lived experiences of armed conflict. On Another Man’s Wound develops a sense of place within its autobiographical treatment of the Irish Revolution, which provides a personal and reflective component in its lyrical form and allocation of time and space to accentuate detailed accounts that root in reality but also shimmer in the imagination.3
Employing a new methodological approach, as I point out in the next section, this topobiographical case study highlights transdisciplinary conjunctions and environmental perspectives on what has become an increasingly important literary and historical artifact about the Irish Revolution. O’Malley’s topobiographical method of inquiry, as I am framing it, follows the contours of the personal, [End Page 130] social, political, and environmental through place-based narratives. Topobiographies blend place-based writing with interrelational experiences, building trust and empathy so that readers can explore histories of place through a more personalized lens.4 Using O’Malley’s On Another Man’s Wound as a topobiographical case study ultimately shows his personal experience during revolutionary war, revolts, political jostling, and, finally, his own self-imposed exile from Ireland.
Before moving forward, it is important to note that On Another Man’s Wound has already been recognized for its lucid prose, revolutionary political history, and anticolonial perspectives. Many historians have lauded the book despite some challenges to its historical accuracy because it adroitly showcases what might be one of the most significant and complex periods of modern Ireland’s sociopolitical history through a personal narrative.5 On Another Man’s Wound also appeals to literary and cultural scholars, with its vivid descriptions of landscapes and references to art and architectural styles (i.e., three sections of the book are called Flamboyant, Gothic, and Romanesque). In so doing, it employs a modernist technique and style of writing that displays vivid montages throughout, encompassing both...